Mudbound: Netflix's Oscar-winner?


The Netflix business model revolves around offering something for everyone so that no-one can refuse a subscription. This 'all things to all people' mentality is clearly working so far (depending on how far you dig into the accounts), with one significant area still 'under development': feature films. Looking down a list of 'Netflix films' you could probably pick one or two that interest you, whatever your tastes, but there's little there that's truly unmissable. Do Ricky Gervais fans need to see Special Correspondents? Will Steven King completists subscribe just for Gerald's Game?

If Netflix were to get an Oscar winner though, things change. People seek out Oscar winners. They are unmissable. You can see where Netflix's thinking is going. In the coming year they will release films like Martin Scorsese's The Irishman, another that falls into that category, but first comes Mudbound, a genuine Oscar contender, at least in some of the acting categories.

And acting is where most of the film's merit lies. All of the characters here are uncomfortable in their present situations to some degree (except Jason Clarke's Henry, who should be), which invites terrific turns of conflict and inner angst. Director Dee Rees grants most of the major characters with a segment of Malickian monologue, over Malickian imagery, which gives each star their moment in the spotlight/beatific corn field. Carey Mulligan, Rob Morgan, Jason Mitchell and Mary J. Blige are all terrific. The latter is amongst the favourites for Best Supporting Actor. Garrett Hedlund still cannot quite shake the feeling that his efforts are greater than their end results, but those efforts are at least there.

The film tells the story of a white family (led by Clarke) working the same land as a black family (led by Morgan) in rural Mississippi, both during World War Two and in the immediate post-war period where both families welcome home a younger family member who has been away fighting (Hedlund and Mitchell). The issue with the film is that that is a big melting pot of characters, socico-economics, race, gender and plot and Rees never manages to balance it all satisfactorily.

Pappy (Jonathan Banks), for example, the senior member of Henry's clan disappears for a vast swathe of the narrative, proving finally to be a dramatic plot device waiting to be revealed, rather than a true character. Another white family, working for Henry, are introduced and seem to be heading somewhere, but you have to watch very closely for their conclusion, which arguably doesn't match that moniker. Each character has a complex relationship with every other on the farm but a massive amount of the most interesting ones get only lip service. Henry and Laura (Mulligan) are set up as on a rocky road from Mulligan's early narration, yet they get more and more time to show that rocky road in full trundling travel. The few interactions that Mulligan has with Blige are delicious, but they are just that: few and far between. The excuses for why characters aren't developing with other characters properly get thinner and thinner. 'Henry always seemed to be away when something happened', Laura tells us at one point.

The film ends on a genius piece of suggestive fancy, a bittersweet note of hope, which hints at what this could have been had a little more refinement been utilised elsewhere. As it is, Mudbound may well be Netflix's first Oscar winner. But it doesn't quite earn an 'unmissable' tag.





By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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